Laura Lam’s Shattered Minds has some interesting concepts, but whether or not it stands alone is a tougher call and not necessarily supported by the text.
Laura Lam’s Shattered Minds, technically speaking, can be read by itself. At least, that’s what the press release says. However, even as I opened the book up, I got the distinct sense that I was missing something.
This has happened before with books like Nine of Stars, but there, the issue was with an ongoing plot developments. That’s not what’s happening here. No, plot-wise, it appears that this book focuses primarily on a new group of characters.
What’s missing, at least for me, is a sense of world-building. There are mentions here and there of the “formerly United States” and a “Great Upheaval,” with few details really beyond that. Pacifica appears to be its own government in at the very least, California. Indeed, it appears that the previous book, False Hearts, also deals with the drug Verve, so the two books are connected that way. Whether or nor there’s more world-building there is something I don’t know.
This isn’t to say that Shattered Minds isn’t any good or anything. It is an enjoyable read, and its basic concept of re-writing brain chemistry and the ensuing plot by a pretty morally ambiguous company to use it on people without their real knowledge is fascinating. So too is the rather motley crew of people who are opposing Sudice. Dax is the most well-rounded outside of Carina, but that makes sense, since he ends up being the love interest. But that doesn’t mean that Charlie and Raf are left out in the cold.
And now we come to Carina. As primary protagonists go, it’s not bad being inside her head during her chapters. She’s oddly detached, of course, but that’s quite justified. She falters here and there as an addict to Zeal, which is a nice touch that keeps her from seeming too perfect.
The problem is that there often feels like there’s a slight disconnect in chapters narrated by Dax, too, which doesn’t have as easy of a justification. It feels as though Lam’s narrator is always like Carina, mostly unemotional about things.
This is probably not helped by the choice to use the present tense throughout. This isn’t to say that a book has to use the past tense to be good. However, the present is a tricky tense, since it often makes telling more obvious than it would be otherwise. There’s certainly room for necessary exposition. But the detachment helps make things appear more obvious and apparent.
There’s one other nitpick here. Grammatically speaking, American English generally uses the singular verb with a collective noun. So we’d say that the Trust, Dax’s group, is using different methods to take Sudice down. Lam uses the British English plural verb often. (And if the previous two sentences don’t make sense, let Oxford English lay down the law.) Since these characters live in, again, “the formerly United States,” how on Earth did they adopt the plural verb with a collective noun? When did this happen? Is that something that False Hearts answers? Why the shift?
(Yes, yours truly likes thinking about these things. Look, it could be distracting for an American reader expecting at least American-adjacent characters.)
Pick up Shattered Minds if you need a rather different protagonist in your reading life, but be prepared to seek out False Hearts either after or during your time in Lam’s Pacifica.